Man in the Moon

The Man in the Moon is an imaginary figure resembling a human face, head or body, that observers from some cultural backgrounds typically perceive in the bright disc of the full Moon. The figure is composed of the dark areas (the lunar maria, or "seas") and lighter highlands of the lunar surface.

In one common Western perception of the face, the figure's eyes are Mare Imbrium and Mare Serenitatis, its nose is Sinus Aestuum, and its open mouth is Mare Nubium and Mare Cognitum. An older European tradition sees a figure of a man (Maria Serenitatis, Tranquilitatis, Foecunditatis and Nectaris) carrying a wide burden (Mare Vaporum and Lacus Somniorum) on his back. He is sometimes seen as accompanied by a small dog (Mare Crisium)

A conventionalized Western image of the Man in the Moon often bears just a very simple face in the full moon, or a human profile in the crescent moon, corresponding to no actual markings.

Origin stories

There are various explanations as to how there came to be a Man in the Moon.

A longstanding European tradition holds that the man was banished to the moon for some crime. Christian lore commonly held that he is the man caught gathering sticks on the sabbath and sentenced by God to death by stoning in the book of Numbers XV.32-36. Some Germanic cultures thought he was a man caught stealing from a neighbor's hedgerow to repair his own. There is a Roman legend that he is a sheep-thief.

One tradition, both Christian and Jewish, claims him as Cain, the Wanderer, forever doomed to circle the Earth. Dante's Inferno alludes to this:

"For now doth Cain with fork of thorns confine
On either hemisphere, touching the wave
Beneath the towers of Seville. Yesternight
The moon was round."

This is mentioned again in his Paradise:

But tell, I pray thee, whence the gloomy spots
Upon this body, which below on earth
Give rise to talk of Cain in fabling quaint?”

There is also a Talmudic tradition that Jacob is on the moon, although no such mention appears in the Bible.

John Lyly says in the prologue to his Endymion (1591), "There liveth none under the sunne, that knows what to make of the man in the moone."

In Norse mythology, Máni is the man who pulls the Moon across the sky. He is continually pursued by the Great Wolf Hati who catches them both at Ragnarok. The name Máni simply means "Moon", but sounds very similar to the Old Norse for "human" mannligr.


There is a tradition that the Man in the Moon really enjoyed drinking, especially claret. An old ballad runs (original spelling):

"Our man in the moon drinks clarret,
With powder-beef, turnep, and carret.
If he doth so, why should not you
Drink until the sky looks blew?"

Plutarch, in his treatise, Of the Face appearing in the roundle of the Moone, cites the poet Agesinax as saying of that orb,

"All roundabout environed
With fire she is illumined:
And in the middes there doth appeere,
Like to some boy, a visage cleere;
Whose eies to us doe seem in view,
Of colour grayish more than blew:
The browes and forehead tender seeme,
The cheeks all reddish one would deeme."

There is a traditional Mother Goose nursery rhyme featuring the Man in the Moon:

"The man in the moon came down too soon,
and asked his way to Norwich,
He went by the south and burnt his mouth
By supping on cold plum porridge."

The Chinese Man in the Moon is called "Yue-lao".

Pareidolia, and other things on the moon

The Man in the Moon is an example of pareidolia. Other cultures perceive the silhouette of a woman, a hare/rabbit, a frog, a moose, a buffalo, or a dragon (with its head and mouth to the right and body and wings to the left) in the full moon. Alternatively, the vague shape of the overall dark and light regions resemble a Yin Yang symbol, on it side and backwards.

The Nepalese also have a tradition that the dead go to the Moon.


In Elizabethan England, the spots of the Moon were supposed to represent a witch carrying sticks of wood on her back, or an old man with a lantern (which was illustrated by Shakespeare in his comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream.)A more recent Western image is the profile of a coiffed woman wearing a jeweled pendant, the jewel being the crater Tycho, which at full moon is very bright and has bright radiating lines (rays).

In New Zealand Maori legend, the moon shows a woman with a local tree, the Ngaio. However, throughout Melanesia and Polynesia, the moon is seen to be a cook over a three-stone fire.

Many lunar deities are also female, e.g. Hecate, Selene and Diana in Greek Mythology. See Lunar goddesses.

In Chinese Mythology, Chang'e (various spellings) lives on the moon. She was mentioned in the conversation between Houston Capcom and Apollo 11 crew just before the first moon landing:

Houston: Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning there's one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-o has been living there for 4000 years. It seems she was banished to the moon because she stole the pill for immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is only standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not recorded.Collins: Okay, we'll keep a close eye for the bunny girl.


In Chinese culture, the rabbit in the moon (a companion of Chang'e) is pounding medicine. Similarly, in Japan and Korea, popular culture sees a rabbit making mochi and tteok, respectively, in the moon. The mythology of Pre-Colombian Mesoamerica also featured a lunar rabbit, for example, Tecciztecatl, the Aztec moon god, was sometimes pictured as an anthropomorphic rabbit.

Maula Ali's name on the moon

Shia Muslims believe that name of Maula Ali Ibne-Abi Talib (Muhammad's son in law) is written on the moon. This interpretation has roots in several hadith by Muhammad where he compares Ali to the Moon and himself to the Sun. The notion is that Ali's teaching is the light that shall guide the Muslims after Muhammad has departed. There are also other esoteric interpretations of this analogy in Islamic philosophy.


External links


Chinese Moon festival legends

Search another word or see turnepon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature